Honoring the Poor People’s Campaign

In Times Like These … A Pan-African Christian Devotional for Public Policy Engagement

By Angelique Walker-Smith

“There need be no poor people among you, for in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, if only you fully obey the Lord your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today. For the Lord your God will bless you as he has promised ….” (Deuteronomy 15: 4-6a)

This scripture raises the question of what is our will for people affected by hunger and poverty?

In Times Like These … A Pan-African Christian Devotional for Public Policy Engagement,” the Rev. Dr. John Mendez suggests that we must have the will to end hunger and poverty because it is possible. He believes that the scripture from Deuteronomy equates the cause of poverty with disobedience to God.

Deuteronomy 15:7-9 states, “You shall not harden your heart …, shut your hand …, have no base thought in your heart …, but open your hand to him; lend him sufficient for his need.” When we follow these words in Deuteronomy there will be no poor among us.

The Poor People’s Campaign, envisioned and developed by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other faith leaders 50 years ago, aimed to eliminate poverty—as envisioned in Deuteronomy. In December 1967, King announced a plan to put these biblical proclamations into practice. He called for a march on Washington, D.C., to demand better jobs, better homes, and better education. According to Rev. Dr. Ralph Abernathy, the Poor People’s Campaign of 1968 intended to “dramatize the plight of America’s poor of all races and make very clear that they are sick and tired of waiting for a better life.”

King’s martyrdom occurred before the full engagement of the campaign. Despite that tragedy and other challenges, legislative reforms did result from the campaign.

In 2018, the campaign has been renewed, with the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. The organizers of the new campaign explain that half a century later, we have still failed to achieve economic justice. The campaign is uniting tens of thousands of people across the country to challenge the evils of systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, ecological devastation, and the nation’s distorted morality.

This renewal of King’s final campaign should raise question in the minds of all of us. What is my prayerful will for those who are affected by hunger and poverty? Am I in relationship with them?

Deuteronomy 15 and the Poor People’s Campaign remind us of the possibility of a transformed society where there is no hunger. You are invited to honor this legacy and actively engage in transforming our communities by participating in our 2018 Offering of Letters: For Such a Time as This.

Angelique Walker-Smith is senior associate for Pan-African and Orthodox Church Engagement at Bread for the World.

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